By Dinu Mahapatuna
Bananas used to make me gag.
When I was a child, the mere scent of a banana would make me nauseous. It was the unfortunate consequence of having caring parents; my father was convinced that eating a banana a day would be enough to keep an army of doctors at bay. So, every day for around ten years my breakfast meals were completed with a forced mouthful of banana (get your mind out of the gutter). Eventually, I rebelled, declared bananas “unlawful”, and refused to touch another until I could do so of my own free will.
This fateful moment of uncoerced action arrived at the ripe old age of fifteen when a classmate presented a convincing argument: “Everyone has it. Just try it. It’s natural, delicious, full of protein… [insert any other banana-related propaganda].” He was one of many innocent civilians affected by a phenomenon that I’ve since dubbed “banana mania”.
The pandemic that is banana mania has long plagued our households. Side effects include too many overripe bananas in your fruit bowl and a fascinating number of amateur still-life drawings featuring five bananas and one apple. The cause? The notion of bananas as some sort of super fruit, necessary for health or, in the case of more radical purveyors, necessary for survival. As my father would put it, “It contains all the nutrients.”
While I can’t bring myself to fact-check my kin, I know that he is not alone in wanting more bananas than the average household can consume. Buying illogical amounts of bananas is a common occurrence; a reality made apparent by the sheer quantity of banana bread produced while we were all sequestered within our homes. I turn to social media as evidence of this phenomenon; many internet users could be seen complaining about three or four blackened bananas in one post, before subsequently boasting a loaf of banana bread a few hours later.
Now, why banana bread? Why not banana cream pie, or any other banana-flavoured monstrosity? The answer is simple, even simpler than the humble banana. Banana bread is as versatile as it is easy to make.
The bread can be as moist or dry, as savoury or sweet as the baker designs it to be. It maintains the ambiguous air of health associated with the banana, while granting enough leeway to abandon the actual banana flavour almost entirely. The flavor becomes a variable, aided with an infinite variety of potential add-ins (chocolate chips for the sugar addicts, and carrot shavings for the psychopaths).
The versatility of the flavour and texture has no impact on the level of difficulty associated with the recipe. Traditional recipes are as simple as ten minutes of effort mixing ingredients together, then approximately an hour of bake-time. Even if one was unable to perform such a task during their regular schedules, the socially-distanced versions (with more time at home and/or easy, quick access to the kitchen) facilitate the creation of banana bread.
Within weeks of being subjected to the chaos of our own abodes, social media feeds were flooded with loaves of banana bread, some a pallid grey shining with grease (or sweat, one may never know), others a shade of luxurious dark gold, marbled with chocolate and sprinkled with what I can only presume to be fairy dust. One google search and you, dear reader, will behold at least 315 million results for banana bread. On Instagram, you need only search #bananabread to find almost two million home-cooks boasting their culinary prowess in thick slices or whole loaves.
It is a testament to the capability of man to take a fruit, overindulge in it, and then turn the creamy, overripe pulp into the bare semblance of nutrition.
Alas, even I cannot plead innocent to succumbing to the seductive pull of making banana bread, after having made the burnished loaf of cinnamon-sugar-crusted ecstasy that is French patissier Dominique Ansel’s banana bread. Try it out, and thank me later.
In the early days of the rise of banana bread, I scoffed at the sheer quantity of banana bread infiltrating my timeline. Now I bask in the glory of baking, of people covered in flour and sugar risking their dignity to produce the sweetest loaf of not really bread.
This year, we became a global community through our taste buds, spreading warmth from our ovens to overheating laptops. In the end, the last resort became a favourite recipe, turning something almost rotten, into something almost perfect.
Dominique Ansel’s Banana Bread Recipe: https://www.mybakingaddiction.com/dominique-ansels-banana-bread/